SANFORD, Fla. - They were the kinds of questions some may not want to answer at a cocktail party and yet 40 people, piled into a small Sanford courtroom, had to publicly talk about their kids, possible criminal pasts and whether they were victims of a crime leaving some very uncomfortable with the process.
This exchange was between state prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda (BDLR) and potential juror P67:
BDLR: How long have you been in Seminole County?
P67: Can you tell me again why we can not do this in private?
BDLR: You want to do this in private?
P67: If there's a way.
BDLR: I'm sorry.
P67: If there's a way we can do this in private.
BDLR: We can try to ask the court but this kind of stuff, unfortunately, the media is allowed to be present.
While some of the questions, like those pertaining to gun rights, had apparent relevancy to the case others appeared trivial. For instance we learned E22 likes to garden and E13 loves horses.
Criminal defense attorney Amir Ladan told Local 10's Christina Vazquez those little details are necessary to help attorneys understand a potential juror's psyche, "the backgrounds play a role in how they will receive the evidence and information."
There were often moments of light-hearted banter, cathartic bursts of laughter which Ladan explained is also a strategy.
"By being light-hearted, hopefully they are letting their guard down giving you the skinny and not just the yes or no answer," said Ladan.
One example included this exchange between de la Rionda and potential juror B7:
BDLR: Did you enjoy serving as a juror?
B7: I did.
BDLR: Everybody hear that? (laughter)
B7: It was one day and we weren't sequestered. (laughter)
BDLR: You didn't need to add that! (smiles)
(Courtroom laughs heartedly)
In this exchange de la Rionda is asking which potential jurors own guns:
BDLR: H35 you own a handgun too?
H35: Yes, my mother owns a gun.
BDLR: H29, sir?
H29: Yes, I'm the father of two daughters so I got my shotgun.
BDLR: Okay (chuckles)
H29: Got their names on them
In this sort of group discussion format, we also saw a glimpse of the state's expected arguments come trial.
Below is a series of questions and statements de la Rionda mentioned during questioning:
BDLR: For those of you that have guns, are familiar with them, do you also think there is a responsibility associated with having a firearm?
BDLR: Do all of you agree that people should be held responsible for their actions?
BDLR: Do all of you agree that people should be held accountable for their actions?
The day ended with jurors trying to come to grips with the idea of being sequestered.
"You are not going to be cut-off from contact but you will be sequestered, which means you will be staying in a facility, um, a hotel in the area and all your meals will be provided for," Judge Debra Nelson said. "Your transportation will be provided for, your personal means will be provided for and that's just during the course of the trial."
Potential Juror K80 said, "If this group is sequestered to the point where we are not able to return to our homes, does that mean that this case will be 7 days a week?"
"No," Judge Nelson said.
"So, everyone else will get to go home on the weekends but us?" asked Potential Juror K80 as nervous laughter filled the courtroom.
"Yes," said Nelson.
"I don't mean that in disrespect but I think its a very valid question," said Potential Juror K80.
"I don't want you to think that you are going to be cooped up in a room and you are not going to be able to go anywhere or doing anything," said Nelson. "There will be planned activities for you, there will be meals and more of that will be explained to you later."
Here are some other relevant excerpts from the day. State prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda making a point to learn which potential jurors are involved with neighborhood watch. George Zimmerman, a Sanford neighborhood watch coordinator, is facing second degree murder for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin which he claimed was in self-defense.
In these below exchanges you can see de la Rionda's expected trial arguments work their way into questioning:
BDLR: You have neighborhood watch in your community?
Potential juror K80: Yes sir
BDLR: And are you involved in it at all?
K80: No, and my husband is quote unquote 'block captain' but I couldn't tell you what that means
BDLR: What kinds of things does he do as 'block captain?' Do you know?
K80: I have no idea
BDLR: Do you see him going around patrolling the neighborhood
BDLR: Okay. (smiles)
BDLR: Other than what the law allows you don't on your own, have you gone out and tried to arrest people on your own?
Potential juror H7: Nope, never have.
BDLR: I I know you are a member of NRA right? But you never have gone out and arrested people or tried to?
H7: No, It's never even crossed my mind why would I?
BDLR: It did not cross your mind? Has it crossed anyone's mind to go out there and arrest people?
BDLR: Anybody live in a neighborhood that has a neighborhood watch? Let's go first row, ah, B7?
Potential juror B7: I've seen the signs.
B7: But I...
BDLR: You haven't seen anybody walking around or anything?
B7: Nah unless they are watching me.
BDLR: I gather nobody has followed you at all? Or you're not aware of?
B7: I don't think so.
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